Modeling Modern Short Lines. is a free Model Railroad Discussion Forum and photo gallery. We cover all scales and sizes of model railroads. Whether you're a master model railroader or just getting started, you'll find something of interest here.


Let's discuss modeling modern short lines from spin offs and mergers.

What defines a modern short line?

These railroads are the result of the Staggers act that deregulated the railroad industry and lead to many marginal profit lines being lease or sold to short lines or Port Authorities set up by local communities or business men and then either lease to a short line operator or perhaps a use locomotive is bought or lease and operated by the Port Authority.Of course the best path is to lease the line to a short line operator.Examples of modern short lines would include Twin Cities & Western, Grainbelt,Iowa Interstate and other such short lines.There are companies such as Rail America,Rail Tex and Genesee & Wyoming Inc that operates a family of short lines in several states.R.J.Corman also operates a group of short lines bearing his name in Ohio,Pennsylvania,West Virginia and Tennessee.

Why model a short line?
There are several reasons to model a short line to include needing less locomotives and cars.One of the biggest is a short line is a good choice for a small layout to include a round the walls layout or a industrial switching layout.A short line fits waybill/car card operation like a glove seeing all you do with a short line is every day customer service by delivering or picking up freight cars..
Draw backs of modeling a short line would include no hot shot pig/stack trains,no Amtrak trains and usually slow speeds in the 20-35 mph range.

How to organize a Freelance short line.
First we must look at several angles to include long abandoned branch line track.Remember we are free to use modeling license.
Ok..Now where do we want our short line located? That question can only be answered by you.Why? Because we all have our preference in locations in a given state to include some branch line or perhaps some long gone favorite short line.

What type of freight?

The type of freight handled will depend on our short lines location...Our short line could specialize in serving coal mines,stone quarries,a steel mill , grain elevators,a industrial park or it could serve several industries located in the towns and small cities the line goes though...MY thoughts is to limit the number of industries being served because IF this was a profitable line instead of being a marginal profitable line the big Class 1 would have kept it.I also like the idea of smaller industries in small towns and cities that still depend on rail service.

How many car loads per year?
That would depend on our customer base and size..My thoughts is our WEEKLY car number should not be less then 30 since that works out to be 1,560 cars a year and based on a 5 day work week-remember most short lines doesn't operate 7 days a week- that is only 6 cars per day..Workable but,a rather bare bones short line.
My perferance is 50-60 per week which is either 2600 cars per year or if 60 cars per week 3120 cars per year or 10-12 cars per day again based on a 5 day work week.Of course that can vary as well.

Here is the most interesting and hardest aspect of short line modeling.We can use a GE 44 Tonner to a SD40-2 depending on tonnage and the steepest grade we need to climb.A short line that handles small train lengths daily can use a GE44 Tonner or 70 Tonner.
However,if we specialize in coal,stone,steel etc then perhaps a second hand EMD or GE 6 axle unit would be needed.Of course 4 axle units would work as well but,more would be needed for the heavier tonnage trains.Of course here's where the short line economics plays a large roll..They may need 6 axle units but,can only afford 4 axle units..
A different approach would be to lease locomotives from one of the locomotive leasers.This way a short line could pay "power by the hour" lease where they only pay the hours the locomotive is actually used.

How about a color scheme?
A very good question! The answer will vary according to your givens..We can use a plain scheme,a complicate scheme or just use lease units from a locomotive lessor.Another approach is to buy a locomotive and paint over the road name and letter it for our short line.We can even use the locomotive's number.We don't even had to match the paint since most short lines favors black.
However,I do recommend finding a color scheme that fits your style.
It is my opinion the track should be lightly ballast and have lots of grass and short weeds between the ties but,fairly maintain other wise except for some broken or split ties at various locations..Thats one style the other style is a well maintain right of way that was refurbish by State and Government operating grants.


Coal Shoveler
My modern-day shortline uses the Alaska RR scheme; with the ARR markings painted out. There is also leased power, which means I can run just about anything the leasing companies lease out. Though for where I am, there's really no need for a CEFX SD90MAC.

On the flip side, since the shortline is also a bridge route in emergencies, certain Class Is will run the occasional train through. Which then opens things up for any loco that gets shuttled around, just like the real world!



Drum Driver
You make some great points Brakie!

My last layout consist of a stone quarry, large feed mill, two factories, freight station, a team track, small engine house, ship yard, and a barge to bring cars on and off the layout...It was all switching and no continuous runs...The stops could receive and ship out almost every type of cars...odd ones went to the team track....It was a perfect shortline all on an 4x8 that was cut up to make an L shape....cuts removed were added to ends to make a 12x5 ft L...Great for small areas.

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